By Staff Sgt. Mike Meares, 96th Air base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 27, 2007
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
A U.S. Army Air Corps B-17 Flying Fortress that dropped seeds of war over Germany during World War II, dropped a different payload March 3 over the beaches of the Emerald Coast - to include an Air Force lieutenant who wanted to relive history.
During World War II, B-17 Flying Fortresses dropped more than 500,000 tons of bombs out their bomb bays during the air campaign against Germany - a well-known bomber in that theater of operation. First Lt. Dan Montes, Air Force Research Laboratory here, wanted to experience "living history" and become part of a select group of sky divers to experience a rare jump out of the vintage aircraft March 3.
"I realized what an amazing opportunity it would be since B-17 jumps only occur once or twice a year nationally," the lieutenant said. "This was also the first beach jump from a bomber that anyone had heard of, and it was to occur at sunset, a favorite time of day for most jumpers. I knew instantly that I wanted to make that jump."
Lieutenant Montes is one of more than 400 people at AFRL responsible for developing future munition capabilities for the Air Force.
"I think it is quite ironic for a bomb engineer to exit through the bomb bay of a vintage WWII bomber," he said.
Lieutenant Montes knew he had to overcome two key obstacles when he found out about the trip in January; he didn't have the sky dive ratings to perform the jump and he didn't have much time to get his rating upgraded.
So, for the next six weeks, the lieutenant spent his free time getting qualified. He knew his chances of success were low since only a limited number of people could jump and he was a last minute applicant.
He concentrated on the task at hand over the months leading up to the jump accomplishing various prerequisites including water survival training and written tests. After some last-minute training, he expedited his application and received his license upgrade March 2, one day before the jump.
"I was cutting it close," he said. "There was a slim chance of me getting on the aircraft even after I accomplished the upgrade training."
As the sun slowly sank towards the horizon March 3, the sky divers who had signed up for the flight formed a line so a count could be performed. As the count progressed, Lieutenant Montes found out his six weeks of hard work paid off -- there was room for him on the flight.
"Most people know me to be a pretty laid-back guy," the lieutenant said. "Well, while waiting to hear if I was going to get a ride, I was almost shaking with anxiousness and excitement. After viewing the static (aircraft displays at Destin airport) for a few hours, all I wanted to do was jump out the B-17."
The aircraft the lieutenant jumped from, called the "Nine-O-Nine" with serial number 44-83575, was named by the Collings Foundation in honor of a 91st Bomb Group, 323rd Squadron plane of the same name which completed 140 missions without an abort or loss of a crewman. It has been restored to the original wartime configuration.
The original "Nine-O-Nine" entered combat on Feb. 25, 1944. By April 1945, she had made eighteen trips to Berlin, dropped more than 281 tons of bombs, and flown 1,129 hours. She had twenty-one engine changes, four wing panel changes, fifteen main gas tank changes and 18 Tokyo tank changes (long-range fuel tanks). She also suffered considerable flak damage from anti-aircraft fire.
After European hostilities ceased, "Nine-O-Nine," with more than six-hundred patched holes, flew back to the United States. While the rigors of war never stopped the historic "Nine-O-Nine," she succumbed at last to the scrappers guillotine, along with thousands of other aircraft.
"I spent most of the ride in the radio room, enjoying the open sunroof and sticking my body out during climb out and cruise to enjoy the Destin coast from a perspective few get to experience," the lieutenant said. "I could only imagine what B-17 air crews experienced during World War II. I was listening to the same drone of the engines they heard all those years ago; a distinguishable sound which has been made famous in movies like Memphis Belle and Twelve O'Clock High."
Lieutenant Montes was on the second of three bombing runs. The target landing zone was Noriega Point at the Destin Harbor. At six thousand feet above the gulf, the loadmaster opened the bomb bay doors.
"As I stood directly above the massive open cavity, balancing on the hinge supports, the free air stream merely inches under his feet, I observed the emerald green water and looked ahead to spot the point approaching from the front," he said.
At the right instant, with a coordinated nod to his jump partner, Dan Flynn, the two tucked in and dropped into the "screaming air flow" just outside the aircraft. After 10 seconds of flying around each other, the two separated and opened their parachutes.
"It's dark in the bomb bay, so the first thing I thought was 'wow, light!' when the blue sky enveloped me," he said. "After I caught the wind, I looked up to see the plane trailing away with those huge doors still open. That's when my brain clicked and I realized what I had just done. That's also when I started screaming my lungs out in pure joy."
The lieutenant has been skydiving for more than four years. He began his training at the Air Force Academy and has been active ever since. He is an avid proponent of the sport and always encourages friends to try it.
The jump over the Emerald Coast from a B-17 is one experience burned in his memory. His work leading up to the event made him a better jumper and invigorated his love for the sport, he said.
"It's an amazing sport and jumping out of a B-17 is an amazing experience," said the lieutenant. "I hope these types of events get young people motivated to learn more about the Air Force, airpower history and the exciting hobby of jumping from airplanes."